The Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to appoint Pushkar Singh Dhami as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand appears to be a considered one. He had lost the Assembly election from Khatima, a constituency that he represented twice, bringing into question his suitability to continue in the post that he came to occupy in July 2021. The reappointment for a second term is appreciation by the BJP leadership of his significant contribution in steadying the ship for the party within the few months he was at the helm. The BJP has had a rough patch in the hill State, and Mr. Dhami was the third Chief Minister in the last year of the previous Assembly’s five-year term. Though he lost his seat, the BJP cruised to a comfortable majority, the first time a ruling party retained power since the State was formed 21 years ago. By selecting Mr. Dhami, the BJP has effected a definitive generational transition in Uttarakhand. Several former Chief Ministers are around in Uttarakhand, and some of them were aspirants this time too. The trust that the BJP has shown in Mr. Dhami could settle the leadership tussles in the party for sometime to come. Groomed in the ABVP, and rising through the ranks, the 46-year-old Chief Minister has earned the trust of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. His initial appointment was more an act of firefighting by the BJP, but this time, he has earned it through performance and the acceptability that he would win across the cross section of the State’s populace despite losing from his own constituency.
As the sole commander of a State which is in a precarious financial situation, Mr. Dhami’s job is not going to be an easy one. Meeting the development aspirations of the people in an ecologically fragile region poses unique challenges. The State can unlock more of its tourism potential, but accompanying environmental costs will have to be factored in. A Rajput, Mr. Dhami gained the goodwill of other communities too in his previous term. His compromise on a government move to regulate the affairs of the Char Dham — the four preeminent Hindu pilgrimage sites in the Himalayas in the State — assuaged the Brahmins who were miffed with the BJP. With the endorsement of the party’s central leadership and a stable social coalition, he is well poised for the moment, but that is no guarantee for the future. The 2024 Lok Sabha election will be a political test for him. He is surrounded by veterans who might take time to adjust to the new hierarchy, and new aspirants. He also happens to be the first Chief Minister of the State who was not an active politician during the campaign for its formation. The new Chief Minister of Uttarakhand has a great opportunity and faces great challenges.